Wonder of Walking!

Walking is an ideal low-impact, low-risk and low-cost activity. It is well documented that walking can have massive health benefits. Just walking at a moderate pace for as little as 30 minutes a day can significantly improve your cardiovascular system. Your heart will become stronger, your lungs more efficient and blood pressure can return to normal. Walking can also improve cholesterol levels, therefore helping to prevent coronary heart disease.

Also regular exercise not only influences our health, it helps to increase both our energy and vitality, and helps us to feel more relaxed. We look and feel good, and years can be added to our lives. So you should ignore exercise at your peril. Another bonus is weight loss or maintenance.

Top consultant neurosurgeon, Peter Hamlyn, founder of the Brain & Spine Foundation and medical adviser to the 2012 Olympics, says:

"Inactivity kills. If it came in a packet it would carry a government health warning. And let's be clear, we are not concerned here about obesity but inactivity. Only six per cent of heart attacks are due to obesity, whereas a staggering 40 per cent are due to inactivity. If we exercised more there would be less diabetes, depression, osteoporosis, falls in the elderly (causing broken hips) and even less bladder and bowel cancer. Simple exercise could cut heart attacks and strokes by 30 per cent. No drug or bypass can do that".

Burning the Calories
And one of the most easiest and beneficial exercises is walking, which will burn ‘fat’ calories and help shape the lower part of your body - hips, bum and tummy.

A person weighing 10 st 10 lbs (68kg) will burn around 1,000 calories if they walk at 4 mph (brisk walking) for 30 minutes 6 times a week. Or walking briskly for 60 minutes, three times a week, will lose the same amount. A person weighing 14 stone can walk 20 minutes a day to achieve the same calorie loss as they are heavier and would have to work a little harder. So the bigger you are, the more calories you will lose!

Slowing the walk to a stroll (3 mph) will increase the time needed to achieve the same result. For example instead of 30 minutes you would need near 45 minutes to achieve similar results.

In terms of weight loss, the amount of calories you burn when walking increases with the speed and/or length of your walk. The table below* gives you a rough guide:

Speed 10 Minutes 20 minutes 30 minutes
2 mph 26 calories 52 calories 80 calories
3 mph 42 calories 85 calories 128 calories
4 mph 61 calories 122 calories 184 calories

*Based on a 40 year old female, 5'5" tall, weighing around 12st

My Walking Speed?
You can calculate your own walking speed by timing how long it takes you to walk a mile (pre-measure it in the car or by checking the route on an Ordnance Survey map).

As you are walking, alternate your speeds. Start off slowly and build up to a brisk pace and then slow down again as you near the end of your walk. Set yourself a target to walk a number of minutes each day, or on certain days of the week, and build the length of time up as the weeks go on. You don't have to walk the entire daily-targeted time in one go. You can split your walks into 10-minute sessions, spread throughout the day, to achieve similar fitness levels.

Alternatively, take every opportunity to walk throughout the day, with the aim of reaching 10,000 steps. That's enough to keep fit, tone up and aid weight loss without additional exercise. You will need to wear a pedometer to count your steps - and keep you motivated. Research shows that people who counted their daily steps with a pedometer increased their walking by more than 1,000 steps a day!

Fit more walking into your day...

At home
1. Get up early and go for a walk
2. Cancel the newspaper or milk and walk to the shop instead
3. If you run out of essentials, walk to the local shop to buy them - don't take the car
At work
4. Walk to work. Alternatively park your car in the furthest space in the car park and walk. If you take the train or bus, get off a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way.
5. Don't take the lift, always use the stairs.
6. Don't phone/email colleagues in the same office - walk to them.
7. Go for a walk at lunch time - ask a colleague to join you and enjoy the break.
8. Cancel the sandwich delivery and walk to the local shop instead.
With the kids
9. Walk your children to school/playgroup.
10. Take younger children out for a walk in the pram/pushchair - maybe to the park.
11. Find the time for one walk each week with each child - make this your special time when the two of you are alone and you can have a chat.
12. Plan fun exploration walks for the kids - get out and explore your local neighbourhood.
13. Make it your mission to plan a new walk each weekend - look out for local parks, country walks, etc
14. If you drop your children at clubs/parties, etc, don't spend the time driving back and forth, go for a walk instead.
With friends
15. Plan to go walking for fitness at least once a week with a friend.
16. If you plan to meet friends walk to their house, or get them to meet you halfway.
17. Offer to join your friend when they are walking the dog.
Make sure that you are wearing comfortable walking shoes. If you happen to be late for work you can always skip the morning walk and walk the extra on the way home for that day. You should aim to walk at least one mile a day (not taking more than 20 minutes). Keep an exercise diary, and keep track of minutes walked, distance/number of steps, and calories burned.

Walking or Hiking Clubs
If you feel vulnerable walking alone (especially in rural areas) you should consider joining a walking or hiking club. Many clubs are aimed specifically at people in certain age ranges so you find the intensity adjusted to suit you. They are extremely sociable and offer benefits of being structured in terms of intensity with other body conditioning exercises. Check to see if there’s a club near you. Alternatively you could organise one or two friends to join you on regular walks every week - providing company and an incentive to make it happen!

Comfortable Clothing
Invest in a pair of comfortable trainers and some layered, breathable clothing. In cold weather wrap up warm with gloves and a hat to help retain your body heat. Ideally, begin with a gentle warm-up, which includes activities that take your joints slowly through their full, natural range of movement. Warm up all the major joints of the body, including the spine. This helps to lubricate the joints, reducing the risk of injury and increasing the comfort of the walk.

Now you’re ready to walk! Your route should be planned carefully so you are aware of the type of terrain you will be walking on. You can use inclines and speed to alter the intensity of your walking work-out. It is always a good idea to tell someone where you’re going and what time you expect to return. If walking on your own, stick to well-lit, populated areas. You may want to carry a mobile phone for additional safety, but keep it out of sight.

Walking Techniques
You can start off walking at a comfortable and steady pace. It is important to focus on your posture, ensuring that you are walking tall with your chin up, elbows slightly bent, shoulders back and striding out in a relaxed manner. A faster pace of walking is known as power walking and will help to increase your fitness level. This involves a bigger bend at the elbow to almost a right angle with the emphasis on the back swing of the arm. The arms should be kept close to the body to generate a piston-type action. The foot should land heel to toe and you should try to avoid too much rocking of the hips. You may wish to switch between these two levels - the comfortable walk to warm up and the power walk or fast walk for more extensive exercise. Use the time factor, as previously mentioned, to measure your improvement. As your fitness improves you can extend the length of your walks or include more hills on your route.

An alternative to walking outdoors is the use of a treadmill that can be set to speeds and inclines to suit your work-out intensity, and you can set up a TV to watch your favourite 30-minute programme while you walk. So no excuses!